By Andrew Sullivan
“Getting angry is ok!
It is a statement that I had to hear a few times in treatment before it started to sink in. I had been taught throughout my life that getting angry represented a vulnerable emotion that indicated that I had lost control. It demonstrated a weakness if you got angry at an aggressor who may be attempting to get under your skin. “Don’t let them get to you!” was a common refrain, so I set out to try and repress my anger from a very early age. I wasn’t always successful (it usually leaked out when I was drunk so I could blame it on the booze), but I did well enough hiding this unwanted, dangerous feeling.
As I was to find out, anger is not only a vital emotional, it’s actually a primary emotion that is built in to all of us to help us survive. It’s an instinct that, as a youngster, I was told would cause me trouble, when actually it was designed to help me. Denying and repressing anger has played a massive part in me getting to a low point in my life, and I had no idea.
“When angry, count four. When very angry, swear.” – Mark Twain
Every time an angry thought or feeling is repressed it doesn’t just float away and disappear. These feeling sit in your subconscious, one on top of the other like a stack of pancakes, desperate to escape.
And they do escape. If they can’t come out though the natural means of communication and action, then they will infiltrate other psychological, physical or spiritual means to get their freedom to the outside world. In my case, my repressed anger problems have been directly linked to my depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and addiction. The effects are quite devastating if left unresolved and untreated. Repressed anger will cripple an individual, literally, and lead to unhappiness, poor health and emotional weakness.
My own unhealthy anger has reared its ugly head through self-sabotage, bullying, idealistic projections, warped thinking, gossiping about others’ shortcomings, and the ultimate explosion, violence and aggression – the latter coming to the fore when I was invariably toasted with some substance or another. Even in the face of these outbursts I would still continue to say ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about me’ whilst underneath the surface I was concocting the next pancake mixture to add the already toppling pile. My ability to disconnect from feelings over the years came back to haunt me with a vengeance.
“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” – Ambrose Bierce
The only way to release any anger is to talk about the feeling as soon as they occur, or as close to the event as possible. An independent counsellor or psychologist is the best the best place to off load, as they can help you see what you are actually angry about and guide you to a safe conclusion. You can talk to friends about it, but we tend to do that to garner support over our issue, and all this does is inflame the anger, not release it.
“Anger, resentment and jealousy doesn’t change the heart of others– it only changes yours.” – Shannon L. Alder
Left unaddressed, anger will turn to resentment, and resentments are very, very bad for you. There is no such thing as a good or healthy resentment – and yet we all carry them in one way or another.
As Mark Sichel L.C.S.W writes in Psychology Today, “The inability to overcome resentment probably constitutes the single most devastating impediment to repairing a disintegrating intimate connection, family rift, or severed friendship.”
I genuinely believed that I didn’t have any resentments when I went into treatment. Sure, I was cross with a few people, and didn’t like the situation that I was in, but I believed that I didn’t carry that with me all the time, and thought that I could let bygones be bygones. I did have deep resentment towards myself for not being able to resolve my issues, and was aware that were a number of people close to home who carried grudges toward me, but not the other way round.
Part of my problem was that I didn’t think that I deserved to have resentments. My treatment of friends and family over the years has ranged from inconsistent and unreliable through to downright shocking, and in my mind, that would qualify other people to wrong me and when they did it would set the record straight in my mind without a word being spoken; actually all I was left with was a another repressed resentment that I could add to the pile and disconnect from.
I would often impart the chilled persona of a peaceful soul by saying to whoever cared to listen, “Life’s too short to hold grudges, you’ve got to move on,” as I toked on another joint with a beer in the other hand, conveniently numbing the reality. I even managed to sell the idea to myself that my abuser could be forgiven as he had probably had a difficult upbringing! But that wasn’t what was going on inside, and I found this to be the case soon after I went into treatment.
“Anger is just anger. It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It’s like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice.” – Jim Butcher
After some hard work with the professionals, I was able to see for myself that I held plenty of resentments – bucket loads – and they were all crammed inside my head. I still have a long way to go to work through them, but just knowing how to release them relieves a lot of the pressure.
People harbour resentments over strangers’ good fortunes, or family dramas. People still harbour resentments against others who aren’t even alive anymore. Grudges can be held for years without resolution nor discussion, and then all hell breaks.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” – Carrie Fisher
So how do we deal with them? I will hand that over to Mr. Sichel again:
‘Fortunately, there are ways to get out of resentment’s crippling grip. There are alternative, life-affirming, and healthy responses that will help you achieve freedom from obsessing about past injustices. There are choices you may not realize are available to you. How can you learn to get out from under these toxic feelings? Take the following suggestions to heart and you’ll be on your way.
1. Approach resentment as the addictive state of mind it is.
2. Realize that you are using resentment to replicate old dramas and acknowledge that you cannot change the past.
3. Examine how your resentment may come from mentally confusing people in your present life with people from your past.
4. Acknowledge that you cannot control those who have rejected you.
5. Recognize that your resentment gives you only illusions of strength. Instead, highlight and validate your real strength and power.
6. Learn to identify signals that provoke resentment. Apply the acronym HALT, widely used in 12-step programs: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired.
7. Practice cognitive behavioral techniques to stop indulging in resentment. Put a thought between your feelings of resentment and indulging in ruminating about them.
8. Acknowledge your part in allowing the abuse to occur, forgive yourself for that, and make a decision to not let it occur again.
9. Declare an amnesty with the person you resent and with yourself.
10. Forgive when you can, and practice wilful and deliberate forgetfulness when you cannot, keeping in mind that these acts are gifts to yourself rather than capitulation to the people you resent.’
So get started on working on your unresolved resentments today! It takes courage, humility, honesty and forgiveness, which aren’t particularly bad character traits to work on and develop in any case. Release the resentments and liberate yourself!
Andy Sullivan is a 39-year-old British father of two based in South Africa. After 25 years of denial in active drug and alcohol addiction, he surrendered to his illness in September 2014 and learned that there is a whole new world out there. He blogs about his recovery journey at www.conversationswithtrev.com